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Negotiation Lessons from Korea’s “Nunchi”

Notes on Negotiation

Written by Marty Latz, Latz Negotiation Institute

Do you know the Korean concept of “nunchi” and how it can help transform a good negotiator to a great negotiator? I didn’t – until I read the New York Times article “The Korean Secret to Happiness and Success” by author Euny Hong.


Nunchi, according to Hong, is “literally translated, ‘eye-measure.’ Nunchi is the art of sensing what people are thinking and feeling and responding appropriately. It’s speed-reading a room with the emphasis on the collective, not on specific individuals.


While it may seem obvious how this can help in negotiations, here are some specific lessons we can all learn from it to become more effective negotiators.

  • When entering a negotiation environment with multiple individuals, take what Hong calls a “mental snapshot” of the whole room, and consciously evaluate the atmosphere, environment and the relationships or possible tension and hierarchies between the parties.

  • During a negotiation, focus your attention on the dynamics and timing of the parties’ comments and body language, i.e., perhaps don’t raise a new issue if you sense the parties are anxious to leave. Perhaps think of yourself in a play and intently observe the other “characters.”

  • Use your eyes and ears and a “quiet mind,” according to Hong, in an active effort of “quiet observation.” Sounds easy. It’s not.

  • Never pass up “a good opportunity to shut up.”

  • Disconnect from your technology and intently use your observational skills and attention to learn from your surroundings and those around you, not your screens.

My first real job after college was working for recently retired U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on a presidential campaign. I distinctly remember a negotiation Wendy had at the time with one of our opposing presidential candidates, Jesse Jackson, and his team.


My role in that negotiation? Sit in the back, say nothing, observe and analyze everyone, and listen to and evaluate every comment and dynamic at play. Then report back after on my impressions.

In a word, nunchi.


Latz’s Lesson: Nunchi can help take your negotiations to the next level – so take a “mental snapshot” in your next negotiation meeting and learn from it.

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Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation Institute, a national negotiation training and consulting company, and ExpertNegotiator, a Web-based software company that helps managers and negotiators more effectively negotiate and implement best practices based on the experts' proven research. He is also the author of Gain the Edge! Negotiating to Get What You Want (St. Martin’s Press 2004). He can be reached at 480-951-3222 or Latz@ExpertNegotiator.com


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